Race Review – Hardmoors Roseberry Topping Half Marathon 2018

I love Hardmoors events, so as soon as Roseberry Topping opened for entry I was in. Only the half this time mind you, as it would be December and the weather might be rubbish. At that point I hadn’t even looked at the route, so didn’t twig that we’d actually be going up and down Yorkshire’s own Matterhorn not once but twice. And I didn’t know about the Tees Link either, a steep, muddy slope that we’d have to go up on the way out and down on the way back. But, as someone once said, ignorance is bliss, isn’t it? It was only in the week before the event that I found out about the double ascent, descent, and noticed folk on the Hardmoors Facebook page saying that heavy rain had turned the Link into a sea of mud. OK then!

The race starts and finishes in Guisborough, at the Sea Cadets HQ. As usual, there was a marathon, half and 10K setting off at various times. After several days of rain, the weather on the day was gorgeous; bright and cold with only a little wind. We set off on a gentle incline out of town and through Guisborough Woods.

Much of the race takes place on the Cleveland Way, and to get up there the infamous Tees Link has to be negotiated. On this particular occasion the rain had turned it into a sea of mud.

Not only was it impossible to run up, it was quite a challenge to simply remain upright – and a fair few people didn’t! We slithered our way up, making very slow progress. I thought to myself how much easier this would be with poles to give you something to hang onto. We finally (literally) hauled ourselves over the top onto the Cleveland Way at High Cliff Nab. The view to the sea from the top was spectacular though. Myself and a girl I’d been chatting with couldn’t resist stopping to take photos of each other. And have a breather!

From there it was easier progress for a couple of miles, then we approached Roseberry Topping. This was an amazing sight, rising up against the blue sky with its distinctive curved summit. We ascended one side of it, went down another, came back up the same way and then descended a different route on the other side.

The whole thing was only about a mile, but took me nearly half an hour! Going up isn’t actually that bad, as there are large stones that almost form steps. Going down is a bit more treacherous, especially as the stones were wet, there were runners further ahead coming back up as we went down, as well as members of the general public with dogs/children etc to contend with. But it was quite fun! I didn’t hang around on the top, as it was quite windy and I didn’t want to get cold. Again, I wished I had poles for the descents. We then had some lovely downhill for a while, before another climb up to Captain Cook’s monument.

The course then undulated for a few miles until we turned back towards Guisborough. I was finding it tough and felt more tired that I thought I would. I was really glad I was only doing the half and not the full marathon! I began to wonder if I should have entered the Hardmoors 50 in March, which would be along similar terrain but a lot longer. I knew there was still time for me to withdraw my application and get most of my entry fee back. The kind of negative thoughts that creep in when you don’t feel too good!

At one point I got cramp in my inner thigh, which I’ve never had before and was horrible! Luckily it went off after a bit of rubbing, and towards the end I rallied a bit after taking a gel.

We then had the fun of coming back along the Tees Link, with more slipping and sliding down the slope. Everyone was in good spirits though, and we had a nice downhill run back into Guisborough. I even managed a bit of a ‘sprint’ finish! My time was 3:47 – my slowest half marathon ever, but also the hardest! I thought I’d been rubbish; then I found out later that my friend Robyn, who would normally knock off a road marathon in around three hours, had taken 6:20 for this one (and was third woman!) so I didn’t feel so bad. Everyone received a coveted Hardmoors t-shirt and medal, and the tea and mince pies afterwards were very welcome.

This is a great event, but one not to be underestimated. It’s a tough course, with a ten hour cut-off for the marathon, so don’t come expecting a PB. But if you like big hills – and mud – it’s a winner! I’m sure it must have been brilliant training. The day after, I woke up with a sore throat, which developed into a stinking cold, so I’m hoping that’s why I didn’t feel brilliant while I was running. I haven’t withdrawn my entry to the 50. But I am hoping Santa will bring me some good poles…

Win a Copy of the Cook Book In Their Footsteps

If there’s one thing I love as much as running it’s cake. Some would say I only run to remain cake neutral! So I love the look of In Their Footsteps, a new cook book produced by the owners of a local tea room near Ripon. It’s in one of my favourite parts of the world, and I ran the Burn Valley Half not far from there in the summer. So I’m delighted to have a copy of the book to give away to one of you lovely people!

In Their Footsteps is the debut cook book from The Burdon family, who own the amazing Jervaulx Abbey and are celebrating 25 years of making delicious homemade food in its tea room. The book features over 50 recipes (including a range of dairy-free, gluten-free and vegan options), bringing together old favourites and contemporary creations. It’s a collection of recipes the family have shared and developed over the years, perfect for both keen cooks and beginners.

You can recreate the tea room’s award-winning ‘free from’ Raspberry and Almond Cake, perfect traditional fruit scones, or even their show-stopping Millionaire’s Cake drizzled with homemade salted caramel sauce. I suddenly feel I need to pay a visit to Jervaulx very soon!

To be in with a chance of winning a copy of In Their Footsteps, just leave a comment below telling me what’s your favourite cake and why. I’ll pick a winner on the afternoon of Friday 9th November.

In Their Footsteps would be a great Christmas present for any home baker, although you’ll probably want to keep it for yourself! It’s a 144 page paperback retailing £15 and is available to purchase from the Jervaulx Abbey Tearoom, online from www.jervaulxabbey.com, Amazon and www.mezepublishing.co.uk  and in book shops including Waterstones.

 

Race Review – Snowdonia Marathon Eryri 2018

I was really looking forward to running Snowdonia. Twice voted Britain’s best marathon, its route is described as ‘demanding’ and ‘spectacular’ and I’d heard great things about it from those who’d done it. Very tempting! You have to be quick off the mark if you want to enter though, as it’s so popular it sells out in a couple of hours. I entered last December and was making it my main event of the autumn.

The marathon starts and finishes in the small Welsh town of Llanberis. It’s a beautiful little place beside a lake, with fabulous views of Snowdon itself. However, it’s also a pig of a place to drive to on a Friday afternoon during half term! A journey that should have taken us three hours took five, so it was pitch black by the time we arrived at around 7.30. The race is on Saturday, and number pick up is conveniently open until 11 pm on Friday evening. After a pasta supper in our camper van it was pretty much time for bed. People told me it always rains at this event, but the weather forecast for the next day was cold and dry – perfect! Rain battered on the van roof during the night, but was scheduled to stop by early morning. I really hoped so, as I suddenly realised I’d left my running waterproof at home – schoolgirl error!

Sure enough, Saturday morning (thankfully!) dawned freezing but bright. It had actually snowed on the high ground during the night, and the big mountain was looking spectacular. The marathon has a very civilised start time of 10.30, so there was no need to get up at the crack of dawn for breakfast. The start line is on the road just outside Llanberis and the finish is in the centre of town.

With about 2,500 runners taking part there were enough people around to create a buzz, but not so many that things were too crowded. I’d taken an old fleece to discard at the start (any clothes left there are donated to charity) and was wearing some old gloves I was planning to ditch en route. The wintry conditions were certainly a sharp contrast to my last road marathon, the boiling hot London one in April! Steve waved me off at the start, then set off on his mountain bike to pedal up Snowdon. And people say I’m mad!

The Snowdonia Marathon route is mostly on Tarmac, with just a couple of sections at around 10K and near the end on trail. There are three major climbs in it, at around 2 miles, just before halfway and a proper beast a couple of miles from the end!

Running a marathon is sometimes a strange thing. You usually set off feeling great and start to flag towards the end. On this day, I set off in a great mood, but soon started to feel what I can only describe as ‘rubbish’. My legs felt like they had zero energy; my belly was gurgling; I even had a bit of a headache. “Typical”, I thought, “the one event of the autumn where I want to feel my best and I’m struggling already. This is going to be a long day and I’m already wishing it was over!”. I dragged myself up the first climb, which was about two miles long; a gradual ascent that was pretty runnable really, but I was struggling. Fortunately after that we had a few miles of downhill; in fact, in this section you eventually end up lower down than the start! But I knew we’d have to get all that elevation back, and more besides, in a while. Just before six miles we got to the first trail section, which was great; but I still felt that if a car had drawn up beside me I would have happily climbed into it!

In a desperate attempt to give myself a boost I decided to take my SiS Double Espresso caffeinated gel, which I’d originally intended to save for near the end. Miraculously, about ten minutes later I began to feel loads better! I hadn’t had any coffee that morning as we’d forgotten to pack our cafetière(another schoolgirl error) and I suddenly wondered whether I’m so addicted to coffee I simply can’t function without it! Anyway, I perked up big time and really enjoyed the rest of the race.

Runners are really well supported on the course, with refreshment points  every couple of miles. All have water and jelly babies, and in the second half there are points with isotonic drink and High 5 gels. Some also had my current favourite race food, marshmallows. They slip down so easily! The first few miles of the course are traffic-free, but later on the road is shared with vehicles, so you do have to keep your wits about you. Marshals on bikes helped to keep us safe though. I was expecting another huge climb up to the second high point, but the course seemed to undulate rather than give it to you all at once, which was good for me. I was having a great time by now, enjoying the scenery and exchanging words with fellow runners. Then came the dreaded last climb! Initially it wasn’t too bad, but then it kicked up and probably seemed steeper than it actually was on tired legs. Nobody around me seemed to be running, so I didn’t feel too bad about jog/walking my way up it.

At the top we were back onto trail, which undulated for a while; then about the last mile and a half was downhill all the way to the finish! The first part was on trail, which was a little slippery and muddy, so hard for me to let go properly in road shoes, then onto Tarmac as we returned to Llanberis. The road was quite steep, but I was loving it. I still had my ‘disposable’ gloves on, but didn’t want to be wearing them in my finisher photo as they were a bit ratty, so took them off and tossed them to a slightly bemused spectator. As I came to the flat ground in town I suddenly felt twinges of cramp in my calves, but refused to stop and walk at this point. I crossed the finish line feeling elated, as the day had turned out far better than I thought it might four hours previously!

My finish time was 4:45:48 – interestingly, about the same as the flat but hot London! I finished in 1,345th place overall (just over halfway), 284th out of 690 women and 10th in the FV55 category. In the second half of the race I’d moved up over 200 places, which I was quite pleased with. I think participating in quite a few hilly events (mostly Hardmoors) over the last year or so has improved my ability to keep pushing when things get tough.

 

There’s no medal at Snowdonia; instead you get a coaster made of local slate, which I think is a lovely souvenir. We also received a great t-shirt and drink bottle. The post-race refreshments consisted of tea and biscuits in a room so crowded it was impossible to move, but that’s my only very slight niggle in an otherwise excellent event. Would I do it again? Possibly, but maybe not next year as I’m quite keen to do the Loch Ness Marathon, which is around the same time. And I’d allow more time for the journey there!

Entry for Snowdonia 2019 opens on 1st December. If you want to see what it looks like, there’s an S4C highlights programme online here (with English subtitles available). But I guess it might rain next year!

 

Race Review – Forest & Moors Challenge 2018

I love Dalby Forest. Steve often goes mountain biking there, so I sometimes tag along and have a trot round the trails while he’s riding. However, as I’m a bit navigationally challenged I don’t usually wander very far; so when I heard about the Forest & Moors Challenge, the opportunity to do a longer run at Dalby that’s fully waymarked was too good to pass up!

This event is organised by the Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team, who also provide such great back-up to the Hardmoors trail runs. There’s a choice of distances: 10K, half or full marathon. I was tempted by the full one, but having done an ultra the week before I plumped for the half as my last bit of proper hilly training before the Snowdonia Marathon.

We were so lucky with the weather on the day. Although the first ground frost of the season meant we were de-icing our car windscreen when we set off from York, the day turned out to be perfect running weather – cool and sunny. The race fee also includes entry to Dalby, which normally costs £9, so that’s a great saving and means any non-running friends and family can enjoy the forest facilities at the same time. Obviously Himself brought his bike along! The run starts and finishes at Adderstones Field. There was plenty of parking, sign-on/number pick-up  was quick, and portable loos had been brought in for the event. The half and full marathon started at 9.30, with the 10K at 10. There was no announcement or gun, it was just a case of “Oh right, we’re off then”!

After leaving the field the course went immediately down and then up a steep and quite technical single track through the forest, so there was a bit of congestion; but after that it opened up onto wider paths through the forest and across fields. There was quite a lot of downhill in the first couple of miles, and we soon paid for that with quite a steep uphill hike! From about five miles onwards the course was lovely and undulating, mostly trail but with a bit of Tarmac from time to time – perfect training for me. For a few miles we were out on the open moorland with some spectacular views, especially near the Hole of Horcum. You can check out the route here. It was so well marked there was absolutely no chance of getting lost, even for me!

There was no mandatory kit for the half marathon, so as the weather was fine I was travelling light (i.e. with just an emergency gel!). There were  refreshment points at around 3 miles, halfway and 11 miles, with water, Coke and jelly beans – and I also had a mini gingerbread man at the halfway point! For a couple of miles after the last one the route was a lovely gentle downhill – combined with the gorgeous weather and the fabulous scenery, it was the sort of running that makes you feel lucky and grateful just to be there doing it. Looking at my watch I hoped I might finish in under two and a half hours, but just before the end there were two wicked little climbs, and the total distance was closer to 14 miles, so I just missed out. But I enjoyed it so much I was kind of sorry to stop anyway!

At the finish we all received a very colourful medal, and there were snacks (including big slices of flapjack!) plus hot and cold drinks on offer. I finished in 2:31, 47th out of 96 runners overall, and was pretty happy with that. I thought my legs might be a bit reluctant after the CTS North York Moors last weekend, but they seemed fine. All in all I thought this was a brilliant and great value event. I’ll definitely be back next year if I can – maybe for the full marathon. So now I’m officially tapering for Snowdonia!

Race Review – Endurancelife North York Moors Ultra 2018

I never planned to run an ultra on my birthday. What sort of idiot would do that? Especially one they hadn’t trained for. No, I’d only planned to run a marathon on my birthday! Albeit a hilly trail one. So what happened there then?

I’d had the Endurancelife North York Moors event in my diary for a while when I watched a lot of the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc race weekend live online about a month ago. Obviously it’s very exciting to watch elite athletes like the legendary Kilian Jornet take on the most prestigious race in the trail running calendar; but behind them, and in the shorter races, are thousands of everyday runners taking on the challenge of a lifetime. The shortest of these is the OCC which, at 55K, is a kind of baby UTMB. I had actually qualified for the OCC last year, but having picked up a lingering foot injury at Race to the Stones I didn’t enter the ballot. My friend Mandy took on the OCC this year and convinced me it was fabulous. My four points from RTTS are still valid for this year’s ballot in December, but the amount of points needed to enter has been increased from four to six. Completing the ultra distance at the Endurancelife would give me three UTMB points, so I opted to upgrade at the last minute to hopefully get these in the bag.

Endurancelife is a series of coastal trail events that take place all over the UK. Each has a choice of 10K, half/full marathon or ultra. I entered the North York Moors marathon mainly because I thought it would be a fun thing to do on my birthday, but also good training for the Snowdonia Marathon in October. The event starts and finishes in Ravenscar, which I love, and takes a figure of eight route encompassing part of the Cleveland Way and surrounding area. As the ultra was only 33 miles but had 3 UTMB points I figured there would be lots of up and down, and I wasn’t wrong!

The weather on race day was fabulously sunny and cool – with just a bit of wind to keep things interesting! There was plenty of race parking in a field just by the start area. Not many people were around when I signed on, so it was all nice and quick, and my upgrade to the ultra was sorted with no fuss (although I did email to check it was OK in advance). We were issued with our numbers, ‘dibbers’ attached to wrist bands to time us through checkpoints, a Tribe bar and an Endurancelife t-shirt. The race briefing for the ultra took place at 8 am, then there was a short break before we set off at 8:30. The organisers had twigged that it was my birthday, and the announcer got everyone to sing Happy Birthday to me, which was a lovely touch.

It was pretty cold at the start, so I set off wearing a base layer, t-shirt, lightweight waterproof jacket and gloves. All mandatory kit anyway, so it saved me carrying it! The first part of the course was pretty familiar to me. In the past few months I’ve been one way round it at the Ravenscar Half, and the other way at the Hardmoors Princess! Out along the Cleveland Way towards Cloughton the overall trajectory is down (and very scenic). Needless to say my jacket and gloves came off after a couple of miles, although I kept my base layer on all day. After turning round at the first timing point we headed back towards Ravenscar on the Cinder Track, a former railway line now used as a foot and cycle path – a slight uphill drag all the way back.

 

Just after 12 miles we passed back through Ravenscar and then headed out the other side towards Robin Hood’s Bay. I thought we might just keep along the Cinder Track for this, but we went back onto the Cleveland Way, going up and down hills and steps at various points. By this time the leaders of the marathon, which had started at 9 am, had begun to overtake us. The speed some of them were going up and down those steps was seriously impressive! I felt my progress was steady but OK; I wasn’t running for time. Lots of walkers were out on the path as we approached the village, and most wished us well, which was lovely.

We passed through the second timing point at Robin Hood’s Bay. All the checkpoints en route offered water, jelly babies, crisps, biscuits and pieces of banana. From here we followed a loop out along the Cleveland Way north towards Whitby, then after a couple of miles turned inland, went up a huge hill, and caught up with the Cinder Track again. This took us back down into Robin Hood’s Bay (a lovely gentle descent for a couple of miles) and through the same checkpoint a second time. From here it was a few miles along roads and moorland tracks, through Fylingdales and Fylingthorpe back to Ravenscar – with lots climbing! This second loop of the figure of eight was also the route of the half marathon. A lot of people were feeling the strain of all the hills at this point – me included! But I managed to keep plugging on, with walking breaks on some of the uphill sections. I would have loved a drink of Coke at this stage, but there was only water on offer, to which I added High 5 Zero.

 

The second passing through Ravenscar marked the end of the marathon distance. But for those of us doing the ultra it was back out again to finish by running the 10K course – a shortened version of the first loop we’d done. It was very tempting to stop, passing by the finish area! But on I trotted, thinking of the UTMB points. And actually, the last few miles were a lot less difficult than the second half of the marathon. I saw hardly anyone on this final stretch and began to wonder if I was last! But no – I eventually finished in 7:24, 55th out of only 62 finishers in the ultra – appropriate for my 55th birthday! Interestingly, there were also nine DNFs in the ultra – I think most of them had decided to call it a day at the end of the marathon. I didn’t mind being nearly last as I was the oldest woman in the race – and the points were in the bag!

 

The ending was fairly low key as most other runners had finished and gone home. There had been 77 entries in the 10K, 167 in the half marathon and 66 in the full one, so not massive numbers – although the event was said to be sold out. There was some nice bling, and overall I really enjoyed the event and thought it was well organised. The signage around the route was excellent – it would have been impossible to get lost, even for me! The only small gripe I have is that it would have been nice to see some slightly more calorific snacks at the check points (e.g. peanuts) and maybe some Coke for a bit of a sugar/caffeine boost. We were warned in the pre-race blurb that snacks wouldn’t be plentiful, but at £55 for the marathon entry I don’t think a bit more refreshment would be too much to ask. Other than that I thought this was a great event and would highly recommend it.

The pre-race blurb also stated that there were prizes for each age group category, including V55, so I’m expecting to hear from the organisers soon; because surely if I was the only category entry in the ultra I must also be the winner, no?!